Colbert’s Immigration Plan: Don’t Eat Vegetables

“America’s farms are presently far too dependent on immigrant labor to pick our fruits and vegetables. Now, the obvious answer is for all of us to stop eating fruits and vegetables, and if you look at the recent obesity statistics, you’ll see that many Americans have already started.”

Stephen Colbert provided a number of fantastic one-liners in his surreal and sublime testimony before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Friday, where he served as a witness in a hearing on migrant workers’ rights. To bring home the difficult working conditions of migrant laborers, Colbert had recently participated in a day of vegetable harvesting at the invitation of the United Farmworkers.

The hearing was a reminder of the unfulfilled promise of comprehensive immigration reform. It was also a reminder that Hispanic immigrants still fare quite badly in American society. It’s worth looking at some of the statistics from Pew Hispanic Center on the problems of low educational attainment, discrimination, and barriers to health care among immigrants.

As Colbert’s shtick made clear, migrant laborers are here to stay because they perform a service that is undesirable to native-born members of our society. The decision we therefore face is whether to collectively take on responsibility for the basic working conditions, safety, and health care of migrant workers, or to continue to treat them as invisible. Colbert’s poignant line (his one serious moment) is worth repeating:

“I like talking about people who don’t have any power. And it just seems like one of the least powerful people in the United States are migrant workers who come and do our work but don’t have any rights as a result. And yet we still invite them to come here, and at the same time ask them to leave.”

Finding the right framework for immigration reform is not straightforward, and I also think that some opponents raise valid points, but clearly the current arrangement is unfair and unsustainable.

About Brendan Saloner

I am a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania in the Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholars Program. I completed a PhD in health policy at Harvard in 2012. My current research focuses on children's health, public programs, racial/ethnic disparities, and mental health. I am also interested in justice and health care.
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